Saturday, July 30

English Plum Crumble with Creme Anglaise

Nursing a hangover and catching up on Simon Hopkinson's great new TV series 'The Good Cook', I was inspired to cook a crumble. Mr Hopkinson was very insistent that a crumble should not be messed about with and that under no circumstances should oats or other pollutants be added to his purist dessert. My mum is the same and whist I thank her for kick starting my passion for good food, I do feel I am an adult and if I want to add some more exciting ingredients to my crumble then I bloody well will. So Mr Hopkinson, here is my version of a seasonal plum crumble and jolly good it is too!Rant over, there is one more crumble related issue I want to address - the great cream vs custard debate (yawn). I have solved this tiresome contention by serving mine with a chilled creme anglaise.....something for everyone......I am such a man of the people.   For four:IngredientsEnglish plums, quartered and stoned - 500gLarge Egg Yolks - 5Star Anise - 2Cinnamon Stick - 1/2Clove - 1Caster Sugar - 250gBlanched Almonds - 100gJumbo Oats - 100gPlain Flour - 250gDemerara Sugar - 50gButter - 125gSalt - a good pinchDouble cream - 250mlFull fat milk - 250mlVanilla Pod

Method:In a pan gently cook your plums with the spices, 50g of the caster sugar and a couple of tbsp of water. Depending on how sweet or sour the plums, you may need to add more sugar but remember, the perfect crumble is a balance of sweet and sharp so don't go crazy. If your plums are nice and ripe, you don't need to cook them very long, just enough to get the juices running - approx 5 mins. Set the plums aside and let the flavours get to know one another.Set your oven to 220c. This crumble recipe will make more than you need. Simply store in an airtight container until needed again or use to top fruit pies, icecream and fools (gooseberry is very good). I also like to cook my crumble seperately from the fruit. This has two benefits, firstly you can make the crumble in advance and assemble very quickly when your guests arrive, secondly I loathe soggy crumble and this method ensures an impressive crunch all the way through the topping. Blitz the flour butter and 150g of the caster sugar in a food processor until roughly mixed. Add the almonds and blitz until they are roughly chopped. Toss in the oats, salt and demerara and pulse for a few seconds to mix. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 30 mins stirring every 5 mins or so to ensure the edges don't burn. You want the entire crumble to be uniformly golden brown and biscuity. Allow to cool.To make the anglaise, heat the milk, cream, 50g of the caster sugar and the vanilla pod (split and seeds scrapped into the milk). Bring to just under the boil and allow to cool and infuse for 10 mins. Now there are two ways to cook a custard. The proper and safe method using a bain marie or the cowboy fast and dangerous way direct on the heat. The method is the same in both cases - you choose but remember the direct heat method needs constant stirring on a low heat. Watch it like a hawk or you will end up with scrambled eggs!    Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and whisk in the egg yolks. Return to the heat or bain marie and bring up to a temperature of approx 75c.   If you don't have a temperature probe use your finger. The custard should be too hot to keep your finger in but nowhere near boiling. This temperature is crucial as this is when the eggs cook and thicken the custard.   Any hotter and the eggs will scramble so take your time. Once the custard is thickened, tip into another container and allow to cool before you chill.To assemble the custard, simply reheat the plum mixture, top with the crumble mix and flash in the oven to warm through. Job done.

Tuesday, July 19

Roast Pork Belly & Rosemary Potatoes, Smoked Sausage & Frisee Salad, Salsa Verde

Pork belly can make really good eating but remember that it is a cheap cut of meat, and like all cheap cuts, it benefits from long slow cooking.    For me it has to be melting tender with a crisp cracking skin and here in lies the problem - slow cooking does not good crackling make.       You need to cook your pork twice to get this result and whilst this may sound like a faff, it does mean you can do most of the work several days in advance.    I am aware that ladies who lunch avoid pork belly due to its fat content and unlike many chefs I have to say that I also dislike very fatty cuts.     Belly does vary from pig to pig, butcher to butcher so ask to see the cut before you buy.   Select an end or piece that has a higher proportion of lean meat, if it looks approx 50/50 raw, after cooking and rendering out the fat, it will be more like 75/25 meat to fat which is about perfect.      For four:

Pork Belly - 1kg in one piece
Cider - 500ml
Rosemary - 4 large sprigs
Thyme - 4 sprigs
Garlic - 1 headFrisee - 1 head
Floury potatoes such as maris piper - 1kg
Frisee - 1 head
Smoked sausage - 200g
Mint - 1 bunch (approx 25g)
Parsley - 1 bunch (approx 25g)
Basil - 1 large bunch (approx 50g)
Capers - 1 large handful, well drained
2 anchovy fillets in oil (optional)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

First braise your pork belly.   In a lidded casserole dish or a deep baking tray large enough to hold the whole pork belly, add the cider, thyme and half the rosemary.   Set aside three fat cloves of garlic, smash the rest - skin and all - and add to the cider.   Season the pork and lay skin side up into the cider.   Cover with a lid or tightly cover with foil and gently bake at 140c for 21/2 to 3 hours.    Your pork is cooked when you can push the handle of a spoon (or any other blunt object) easily through the skin and flesh, if it feels a little tough, cook for another 30 mins.     Allow the pork to cool in the cooking liquor and when it is still warm, cover with cling film and then a flat tray or pan and weight down with several tin cans or other heavy objects.  Refrigerate overnight.    This 'pressing' squashes all the layers of fat and meat together and sets them as the fat and proteins congeal in the fridge.     It makes the pork really easy to portion and is how restaurants get perfectly uniform squares of pork belly.   All of the above can be done days in advance - just wrap the pork and leave in the fridge for up to 5 days.    

To finish the dish set your oven to 220c.   Peel and cut your spuds into 2cm dice.   Toss into a roasting tray, oil, season and toss about to coat.   Add your sprigs of rosemary and roast for 30 to 40 mins agitating every so often.     Remove your pork from the braising liquor discarding any congealed fat.    Lightly score the pork skin in a diamond pattern then portion the belly into  generous squares.   Keep and shred any trimmings - they make great taco fillings when crisped in a frying pan and served with a hot salsa.   

Heat a frying pan which can go in the oven (no plastic handles) and fry the pork, skin side down on a medium heat.   You want the skin golden, to have a crispy blistered layer and the fat underneath to be rendering out into the pan - in all this should take approx 10 mins so adjust the heat accordingly.    When the pork skin is blistered and golden, flip onto the flesh side and put the pan in the oven with the potatoes to heat through and crisp further (the pork will need at least 15 mins so put in the oven half way through the spud cooking times).   While the pork and spuds are cooking, make the salsa verde by blitzing the herbs, the remaining 3 cloves of garlic, capers, anchovy, lemon and a good glug of olive oil.    You want the salsa verde to be just pourable so add more or less oil to get this consistency. Taste, season and add more lemon juice if required.  

When your potatoes and pork are golden, crispy and nearly cooked, toss the chopped sausage into the potato roasting tray to warm through.    Dress the frisee with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.   Plate the frisee, top with the potatoes and sausage, then the pork belly.    Top with a generous spoonful of salsa verde.   Crispy spuds, crispy pork and maybe a crisp Italian white - the perfect lunch?      Maybe not if you are on a diet.

Tuesday, July 12

Tonno e Fagioli - Rare Roast Yellowfin Tuna and Tuscan Bean Salad

I have very little to say about this dish except that it has everything you could want from a warm salad.    It just works - grazie for the Italians!      For two:

Thick Yellow Fin Tuna Steaks - 2x150g
Cannellini Beans - 1x400g tin
Red Pepper, roasted, skinned and seeded - 1
Capers - 3 tbsp
Banana Shallot - 1, peeled and finely chopped
The best extra virgin olive oil - 75ml
A few basil and or parsley/sage leaves - torn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Take your tuna out of the fridge 1 hour before you want to use it - this allows it to come to room temperature.

In a roomy pan chuck in the beans, the capers, shallot, red wine vinegar and 50 ml of the oil along with the red peppers that you should finely slice.   Season well and gently warm - i mean warm here, don't boil it.   Remove from the heat, chuck in the herbs and allow the flavours to get to know one another.

Put a pan on a high heat and then oil and season your tuna fillets.   When the pan is smoking hot, sear the tuna for 30 seconds on both sides then remove from the pan and rest for a minute or two.   This will give you a very rare tuna steak as in the picture above.   Feel free to cook more if this is to your taste.

Check the flavour of the bean salad adding more vinegar, salt and pepper to your taste.   Divide between two bowls and top with the tune slices through the middle to reveal the glowing ruby red centre.   In the picture I have drizzled with a little ready made pesto I had in the fridge - a nice addition if you have it but unnecessary if not.   Enjoy.

Monday, July 11

Roast Fillet of Smoked Salmon, Beetroot, Chickpea & Parsley Salad, Creme Fraiche


It was great working at the pub this weekend as we sparked up the wood fired oven to cook a full menu for the first time.    As usual the British weather gave us a scare with monsoon like conditions in the morning, however the day ultimately turned out sunny.   I thought I would share with you a couple of the dishes we cooked - all are really easy, fresh, packed with flavour and are super colourful.    

With smoked salmon, the fillet is usually cured in salt and sugar then either kiln roasted in a smoky environment to give hot smoked salmon, or cold smoked in a smoker where cold smoke is blown over the fish leaving the fillet preserved but effectively raw.   Both these types you will find easily in the supermarket - hot roast is usually flaked, cold smoked is usually pre-sliced.   What you need is a fillet of 'skin on' cold smoked fish before it is sliced.     You should be able to get cold smoked salmon fillets fairly easily, we bought in whole sides of salmon from Dundry smokehouse - I know Waitrose sell them or ask your fishmonger.  For four:

Smoked Salmon Fillets - 4x 125g
Beetroot, red gold and candy if you can get them - 1 bunch of red or 1kg mixed
Cooked Chickpeas - 2 tins
Flat Leaf Parsley - 1 large bunch, leaves picked from the stems.
Balsamic Vinegar, a good quality one
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Creme Fraiche - 1 small tub

Take off any leaves, stalks and roots from the beetroot, wash off any soil and boil in salted water until a knife easily penetrates the bulb.   Drain and allow to cool until you can handle them.    The skins should peel off very easily with just a gentle rub and use a knife to trim off the remainder of the stalks and cut into nice bite-sized wedges.    While still hot, toss in equal quantities of  olive oil, balsamic and honey and season to taste.   You don't want gallons of dressing, just enough to glaze and flavour the beetroot with a little dressing left in the bottom of the bowl.   This is a great tip here: dressing hot vegetables, grains and pulses results in much more flavour being absorbed from the dressing, give it a try with couscous, rice salads, quinoa, pasta salads etc.

Heat a good non stick frying pan.   Oil and season the salmon with pepper and a little salt (remember the salmon has been cured so will be a little salty already).   Sear the salmon fillets skin side down until the skin is crispy - 3 mins or so.    Then flip and sear the other three sides of the fillets for 30 seconds on each side.   This should result in a slightly rare fillet, if you like your salmon cooked through, cook for a minute or so longer.   Remove from the pan and allow to rest while you finish the salad.

Tip the chickpeas into the beetroot bowl along with the picked parsley and toss about until everything is well coated in the dressing.   Check the seasoning and adjust adding more oil, vinegar and honey if required.   Plate and top with the cooked salmon fillets and a blob of creme fraiche.

Wednesday, July 6

Chile Rellenos - Spicy Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Having just watched Thomasina Miers' new cookery show ‘Mexican Food Made Easy’ on (Tuesdays: C5 @ 19.30), I was inspired to share with you one of my Mexican recreations. 

I ate this dish in a Mexican cookery school where they use large ‘chilli de agua’ and stuff with a mixture of meat and rice.    Traditionally these are battered and fried but I prefer the less greasy chargrilling method detailed here.   Big chillies are hard to come by in the UK, but I saw British grown Romano peppers (large red pointed peppers) in the greengrocers on Gloucester Road and these are perfect for stuffing.   These won’t have any heat and eat just like a standard bell pepper so spice up your pepper filling instead.   Oh, and if you happen to read Thomasina's fantastic book accompanying the series, there is a cracking recipe on page 114 contributed by yours truly!     For four:

2 tbsp olive oil
3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large chicken breasts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 ½ tsp smoked paprika
1 handful stoned olives
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp (or more) chopped jalapeƱo peppers pickled in vinegar
1 small handful of raisins
1 handful of grated mature cheddar
4 large romano peppers
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion until golden at the edges.   Add the garlic and continue to fry for a minute.   Blitz the chicken in a food processor to a rough mince and add to the pan.   Add the spices and cook for 5 mins over a gentle heat until the chicken is cooked through.

In a bowl, mix the chicken mix with the olives, tomatoes, chillies, raisins and cheese, season well to taste.   Cut the tops off the peppers and retain the lids.   Carefully remove the seeds and any white ribs inside the peppers taking care not to puncture the peppers (you need to stuff them remember).   Carefully fill each pepper with the chicken mixture pushing down to the point and packing in firmly.  

Heat the oven to 220c and also heat a griddle pan until smoking hot.   Char-grill the peppers until they are marked all over with black lines from the griddle (you can jump this stage and go straight to the oven but add 10 mins cooking time).   Put the tops back on the peppers and place in a baking dish and roast for 20 mins until cooked right through.

Serve with salad, large garlic croutons or nachos, salsa and sour cream.